Indiana already had a lot of learning to do with seven new scholarship players, six of them true freshmen, on the roster, and injury hasn’t made that much easier.
Freshman swingman Troy Williams has only been able to use his right hand for a week, IU coach Tom Crean said at his press conference Friday, and freshman center Luke Fischer has only been able to participate in full contact practice for three days because of a sprained shoulder. Freshman guard Stanford Robinson still isn’t back from a bruised knee and won’t play in Saturday night’s 7 p.m. exhibition game against Southern Indiana “unless something magical changes tonight,” Crean said. Redshirt freshman center Peter Jurkin had to miss two weeks to be with his ailing father in the South Sudan.
Even for the players who might be available, there was a cost to them for missing that much time in their first preseason.
“Troy Williams lost valuable time,” Crean said. “And then he came back and he did a great job, but he did it with one hand. Luke Fischer has missed valuable time. … Stanford Robinson has missed valuable time. There’s been times Devin (Davis) has been in and out, though he’s been extremely efficient for us over the long haul. We’ve just had different issues with the injuries.”
That’s hampered the Hoosiers in areas where they had a long way to go to be adequate. Crean said they have made a lot of progress but that he isn’t entirely certain how that will look the first time this team plays “under the lights.”
“Ball moves better, and now when the lights go on, it’s gotta move that way,” Crean said. “… Versatility has grown. I think confidence has grown of guys being stretched into positions and doing things that they might not have done before. I think no question the defense has gotten better. Understanding our length has not improved, a little bit this week. But I think we have a lot of guys right now that have plus-5, plus-6, plus-7, plus-8, plus-9 wingspans that think they have a minus-2. They don’t realize it. They don’t realize what they can do athletically. I think until we get into the games, I think until we hear the whistle blow and until we have real crowds and real timeouts and real situations, it’s going to take a while for them to get that.”
Crean said he’s generally liked the level of competition at practice and that he does believe this team will be adaptable when it comes to playing systems that are less rigid in terms of positions. Freshman forward Noah Vonleh said Friday that he has played small forward, power forward and center in practice and that he even played at point guard on occasion just to accelerate his grasp of the offense. Sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell said that sophomore Jeremy Hollowell, a 6-foot-8, 219-pound swingman, had also handled the point on occasion in practice.
“He’s good,” Ferrell said. “He’s a big guard, really. So once he gets in the lanes, he can pretty much finish over smaller defenders. He’s really made some smart decisions, I feel like.”
With such wide-open options, Crean said he doesn’t know what he’s going to do as far as a starting lineup yet. and doesn’t believe there will be much in the way of defined positions on this team.
“The one thing that’s really gone by the wayside is positions,” Crean said. “… Everybody sees the game through their own lens. The one lens that is starting to become more common place is that positions matter less. Look at what the Heat did last year. Look at the different teams. It doesn’t matter if it’s three guards, if it’s four guards, if it’s a small forward at the five, if it’s a power forward at the point, it doesn’t make a difference. It doesn’t make a difference right now.”
One thing that will make a difference, he said, is officiating. The NCAA has instituted a new no-hand check rule that will cause the game to be called much tighter, likely meaning more fouls and longer games. Crean said he’s had officials in for practice and it’s become obvious to him and his players that the game will be very different. It’s just hard to tell right now exactly how much.
“You keep reading all of these different stories and talking to colleagues that have scrimmaged at this point and you start to know that everybody’s really in for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for a while here until we figure out how the games are going to be officiated,” Crean said. “The officials, the coaches, the players. … This game is changing. It’s going to be universal, and early on, everybody is going to have to make an adjustment to it, us included.”
The Hoosiers will be getting used to that against a Southern Indiana team that went 23-8 last season and reached the NCAA Division II Tournament. They return 12 players from that squad, though their leading scorer, senior swingman Orlando Rutledge, is out until December because of academic trouble.
“When we decided that we were going to do two exhibitions this year, we wanted to get some teams that had tournament experience, great leagues and played different ways,” Crean said. “What this team does is they really have a very good cutting movement team, they were great at getting the ball inside last year, they led the country in rebounding margin. They were very aggressive. How much that will change this year based on a couple of guys who aren’t playing is yet to be seen. But they went to some sets where they just pounded it inside and they also had great movement sets. In that sense, it’s very good for you. Again, want to win the game, but we’re going to take more out of this from how we play, what our adjustments are like, what our situational basketball is like, how well guys move the ball for one another. I think that’s going to be probably more important at the end of the day than any score.”